How Do They Stay in Business?

A minor rant.

Did you ever get such stupid service from a business that you wonder how they survive?

I had that happen to me last night. I was with some friends in Chelan watching an outdoor concert at the “Main Stage” for the big Winterfest 2015 festival going on this month. It had been snowing all day and it was cold. I spent much of my time on the fringe of the crowd where a fire was burning in a small fire pit remarkably like mine.

I was hungry and when my friend Pam said she was hungry, too, we looked around for a restaurant. There was a teriyaki place across the street and we decided to try that first. Although it was a tiny place with fewer than a dozen tables, we’d timed it right and a table was open for us. We sat right down.

It was about 10 minutes before the waitress showed up with menus. She started off by telling us what beverages were available at no cost. She never told us about any other kind of beverage that might be available, either non-alcoholic or alcoholic. Kind of weird, but okay. The hot tea sounded good so that’s what I ordered. Pam ordered water.

The waitress came back another 10 minutes later to take our order. We wanted to split a large tofu vegetable teriyaki dish with chicken added. It wasn’t because we were trying to be cheap. It was because neither of us wanted to eat very much and we didn’t plan on carrying take-home boxes when we went back outside for more live music. The waitress wrote it down and disappeared. She didn’t try to upsell with an appetizer or anything else.

She was back in 5 minutes. Apparently, the kitchen was too busy for “special orders.”

I looked around the restaurant. Yes, every table and the small bar was filled. About half the people were eating. No one was waiting. It didn’t seem that busy to me.

Ordered a small chicken teriyaki. Pam ordered a small tofu and vegetables. And then we sat back to chat and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Pam’s husband came in a few times. He sat with us for a while, used the bathroom, sat with us some more, and then went back outside.

We continued to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I didn’t mind the waiting so much. I was comfortable. The place was warm. My clothes were dry. We could see the concert right through the restaurant windows. We could see all those people shivering in the snow by the ice bar, drinking overpriced alcohol while crowding around propane space heaters. When the door opened, we could hear the band. I figured we were a lot better off inside than outside.

I could use some more tea, but in the ninety minutes we waited for our food, the waitress came by only twice. I hit her up for tea both times.

The food finally came. It was about as I expected: neither bad nor great. It was hot, though, and fresh. So I guess that’s something.

Pam’s husband came back in and shared some of our food.

I picked up the check, which came pretty quickly after the food had been consumed. We’d been in the restaurant a total of about two hours when it arrived. The total, with tip, came to $28.87.

And that’s my question: how can a restaurant stay in business when it allows its tables to be used as low-cost rest zones for cold, wet concert-goers? If the average spent by each person in the restaurant was $15 and each person was there for two hours, how could they possibly be making any money?

Let me make it clear: we did not hang around because we wanted to. We hung around because we were waiting for our food. The delay came entirely from the restaurant staff. We weren’t hogging up the table. They were just providing exceedingly slow service.

How does a business that operates like this stay in the black?

A $500 Hamburger

A friend takes me out for lunch…and I provide transportation.

I’m not blogging much about flying lately. That might be because I’m not doing much flying. Although cherry season rains kept me pretty busy the last week of June, dry weather leaves my helicopter idle. I don’t promote my charter or wine tour services during the summer because I’d hate to have to cancel a flight if the weather got iffy. Cherries always come first during cherry season.

But people do find me. I got a call on Saturday about doing a birthday flight on Sunday. They have a summer home at Crescent Bar and wanted to tour the river between the Gorge Amphitheater and Orondo. It was a nice day with no rain in the forecast, so I booked it for 11 AM.

Happy Passengers
I like happy passengers — and these folks were happy!

The passengers were lucky, although I don’t think they realized it. I have a 1-hour minimum for all of my charter flights and that’s what I charged them for. But I bet we were out for at least 15 minutes more. Not only did we tour the areas they wanted to see, but we happened to pass by the Appleyard just as one of the fire helicopters was descending to dip for the Skyline Drive fire. I maneuvered to stay out of his way, then turned so my passengers could watch him dip from the air. Cool.

Blustery’s. Drive-in or fly in. Whatever works.

Meanwhile, I figured that while I had the helicopter out and about, I might as well do a little pleasure flight. I’d called my friend Bob at about 10 AM and had asked him what he was doing for lunch. When he said he didn’t know, I told him I knew: he was buying me a burger at Blustery’s in Vantage and we’d go there by helicopter. He should meet me at the airport at 12:30 PM.

He arrived at 12:30 sharp, just as my passengers were driving off for the rest of their birthday activities. Because of the heat, I told him I wanted to take off my door and asked if he wanted his off, too. “Sure!” was his enthusiastic reply.

A short while later, we were taking off into the wind, then turning a right downwind to meet up with the river at Rock Island. Bob was loving the flight — he hadn’t been aboard a helicopter in years. We crossed over the power lines near the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee — the road to Palisades, as the locals refer to it — and dropped down lower over the river. The water was low because of the repairs in progress downriver at the Wanapum Dam. All of the river access had been closed between the Wanapum and Rock Island Dams and PUD security crews were patrolling by boat and jet ski. (Talk about a dream job: being paid to ride a jet ski up and down the Columbia River all day.) Of course, since we weren’t on the water surface or shore, it wasn’t closed to us. We got a good look at the land that’s usually under water, including formerly submerged roads, building foundations, and orchards.

We went all the way down to the dam and made a wide arc past it. Bob wanted to know if the folks on the ground could get in touch with me. I explained that they couldn’t without looking up my N-number, which is large enough to see from the ground. But we didn’t pose a security risk. We were flying too far from the dam and our pattern was clearly that of a tourist. Bob knew about a friend of mine who’d gotten in trouble with the NSA when he did a photo shoot over a train yard. I explained how our flight was different. Now if we’d been loitering without calling ahead — well that would have been a big mistake.

We headed up the west side of the river. I circled my intended landing zone — a large paved parking area on the southwest side of Blustery’s — and made my approach from the east. I touched down as gently as I could on the rough pavement, noting the slight slope. Only one or two people seemed to notice a helicopter landing back there — it really doesn’t make all that much noise when it’s on the ground idling. I gave it an extra minute to cool down — it was running very hot — and killed the engine.

I shot a quick photo before we went inside.

At Blustery's in Vantage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past or flown over this LZ before I finally landed here. It was perfect!

I’m not sure if the girls at the counter inside knew we’d arrived by helicopter. They had a drive-in window that faced it so they must have seen it out there. But they played it cool.

I ordered a burger and a shake. Bob ordered a chicken sandwich. We took a table by the window and spent an hour just eating and talking.

It was about 2 PM when we finally climbed back on board. I wasn’t in any hurry to get back, so we took a scenic route up Frenchman’s Coulee, past Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, over Quincy Lakes, past the Coluckum Ridge Golf course where two pilot friends are staying, past Beaumont Cellars, and over Crescent Bar. When I shot out over the Babcock Ridge, I think I spooked Bob a bit; he asked, “Don’t you feel it in your gut when the ground just falls away like that?” I told him I’d done it so many times that it didn’t bother me anymore.

I took a shortcut over the wheat fields to Lower Moses Coulee, where Bob and I had gone motorcycling on Friday. The road was straighter and flatter than where I usually like to ride, but it was a good outing together — a great way to learn more about the kind of riding he likes to do. (I’m wondering if he’ll be able to keep up with me on the twisties and hope to make a ride up the Entiat with him soon. My last riding companion there lost me after the first mile.)

I cut up Douglas Canyon, following the creek instead of the road up to Waterville. Once up on the plateau, I poked around, exploring deserted homestead sites and abandoned farm equipment from the air. Then I steered us over Badger Mountain. The earth fell away again when I came over the cliffs just 4 miles north of Wenatchee Airport and we started a 1300 feet per minute descent, keeping a sharp lookout for gliders.

We’d flown a total of 1.6 hours.

I really needed a fun day out in the helicopter — anything other than hovering over cherries trees for hours on end — and Bob enjoyed it, too. He was still talking about it today when I stopped by his place to pick up some tools he had for me. I really enjoy flying with a companion — especially one who appreciates the novelty of a fly-in lunch and exploring a well-known path from the air.

As for Blustery’s — well, just as I offered “The Hamburger in the Middle of Nowhere” when I lived in Arizona, I’m thinking of offering “The $500 Hamburger” here in Washington. I’m willing to bet the folks at Bustery’s will appreciate me dropping in again.

Dinner and a Movie

My last date — and an idea for my next one?

Way back in 1982 or 1983, I went on a date with a man I met at a bar. I was 21 or 22 at the time and I’m pretty sure I was at the bar with some college friends. In fact, I think my previous boyfriend was among those gathered for drinks. I can’t remember how we got to talking, but I suspect he was a friend of one of my friends. I can’t remember anything we talked about, but when he asked me out for a date, I said yes.

My Last Date

The date was dinner and a movie — and for the life of me, I can’t remember which we did first. It must have been dinner, right?

Dinner was at a place called Coco’s. It was (or is?) a restaurant chain in the New York area. I was living in Hempstead, Long Island at the time, in my first apartment. Coco’s was in Hempstead, but on the “nice” side of town. (Not sure if there is a nice side of Hempstead these days.)

I don’t remember what we ate, but I assume it was standard chain restaurant fare. I do remember the conversation, though. It was dominated by my date, who spent most of the time talking about his ex-wife, his religious beliefs, and the kind of furniture he liked. I felt as if it were a job interview for his next wife, where he was running through the qualifications for the position and telling me what to expect. The entire dinnertime conversation was a complete turn-off. The furniture bothered me most: do people still have Colonial American furniture?

So I wasn’t very optimistic about the rest of the evening.

Blade Runner Movie PosterThe movie was Blade Runner, the classic science fiction movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. I absolutely loved this movie — and today, it remains one of my favorites of all time. I loved the complex story, I loved the visualizations and style, I loved the characters, I loved the violence. I came out of the movie feeling good, ready to see it a second time.

My date, however, hated it. Absolutely hated it.

That’s when I knew there was a mismatch.

He drove me home and I let him walk me up to my apartment. But I did not invite him in. I think there was a G-rated kiss on the doorstep before I went inside.

He called me the next day to ask me out for a second date. That kind of amazed me. He was apparently either desperate to make it work or completely out of touch with reality. I set him straight. I told him I didn’t think we were a good match.

He tried one more time a few weeks later, leaving a message on my machine. I didn’t return his call.

(And in case you’re wondering, my soon-to-be ex-husband and I didn’t really date. We just started doing things together and didn’t really stop — until this year.)

My Next Date?

I think dinner and a movie is a great idea for a first date. Dinner gives you a chance to see what kinds of restaurants and foods you both like. It gives you an opportunity to discuss the things you both think are worth discussing. It gives you both food for thought for the rest of the evening and beyond.

The movie, of course, gives you an opportunity to share the experience of third-party content. Rather than both of you talking about what you want, the movie offers fresh input from someone else. How you both react to it can help you understand how alike — or different — you are. I know that if I hated a movie and my companion loved it, there could be a problem. But even a discussion of the movie can help bring out similarities and differences in the way you think.

Skyfall movie posterIf I got to plan my next date, it would be dinner at an independent (not chain) restaurant that offered healthy choices (like salads or grilled meats/fish) followed by an action/adventure flick like the new James Bond movie, Skyfall — maybe in IMAX.

The hard part, apparently, is to find someone who agrees that might be a pleasant way to spend an evening.